The Productivity Myth: Step Away From the Twitter – Get Back to Work

Ever since I posted a how-to on establishing guidelines for social media in the workplace, the issue that has generated the most energy concerns productivity. Employers it seems are very worried about lost productivity due to social media usage (Facebook, Twitter etc.).

I can’t really get my arms around it because I don’t think these tools bring out any really new productivity concerns (and yes I am aware of operant conditioning).

The fact is that there are already tons of other outside distractions at work ranging from instant message, email, workplace socializing and the never ending cigarette break – so this is not a new problem – but an old concern applied to a new technology; similar to what we see when the ranks of psychologists hit the TV news circuit to describe some new addiction caused by technology. I don’t buy it. Do you?

During the same time that Facebook grew from 100 million users to 200 million and Twitter went Oprah (March ’08 to March ’09) U.S business sector productivity has increased 2.0 percent. This is a bit off the recent historic rate 2.5% – but I don’t think anyone during this recession is blaming that on Twitter.

Companies that think they may have a productivity problem because of social networks and the like actually have a measurement problem – that is – they don’t know how to objectively measure whether an employee is meeting standards of productivity. In the absence of clear measurement – they resort to punitive actions (blocking these sites, monitoring employee behavior) that can damage morale and trust. If your sales team is nailing their numbers do you care if they are on Facebook? If your call center is handling volume with great customer satisfaction – do you care if they use Twitter?

Lastly, most companies don’t recognize that they often expect employees to check email after hours and bring work home when needed. If this is the expectation then blocking employees from accessing these social sites during “work hours” is not a fair bargain.

My recommendation for companies is to clarify job performance criteria and establish clear guidelines on how to productively engage social media (social media savvy employees are an asset not a liability)… and to build those guidelines collaboratively with their employees using these very same technologies. My favorite guideline comes from IBM (they have the best guidelines that I know of) which says, “Don’t forget your day job” Enough said.